It seemed that nothing could go wrong for the Giants during their matchup with Philadelphia.
If every baseball game is a short story, Tuesday's NLCS Game Three featured three interwoven narratives: a classic pitching matchup featuring 26-year-old starters Matt Cain and Cole Hamels, the lineup machinations of Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel, and the continued post-season star turn of husband, father, slugger, teammate and all-around great interviewCody Ross. Cain and Hamels lived up to expectations, churning out another data point in support of the old adage that great pitching stops great hitting, one manager saw each of his decisions hit the jackpot, and one of those decisions helped Ross once again deliver in the clutch in support of a 3-0 Giants victory, giving San Francisco a 2-1 series edge.
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My apologies for giving this piece a title more suited to a Sufjan Stevens song than a baseball article, but I’m a little bit hyper today. Like many of you, I’m struggling through this two-day break before the playoffs begin again on Friday night, featuring an ALCS showdown between the Texas Rangers, coming off their first playoff series victory in franchise history, and the New York Yankees, who’ve won 28 playoff series and nine world championships since the Senators/Rangers franchise came into existence in 1961. Over in the senior circuit, the Giants and Phillies tee it up on Saturday night with one of the more compelling pitching matchups of recent vintage: Tim Lincecum vs. Roy Halladay, who in their two playoff starts have combined for two complete games, one no-hitter, four baserunners allowed, 23 punchouts, and 48 instances of a broadcaster saying “that pitch just wasn’t fair.” I can’t wait, because this is going to be good—in fact, given how exciting (if sloppy) the playoffs have been so far, I’m more excited about them than I’ve been in years.
Despite a last-place NL West finish, Kevin Towers is a few shrewd moves away from making the Snakes contenders.
It was a disappointing year for the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team expected to compete for the NL West title but instead plummeted to the divisional basement. Former ace starter Brandon Webb’s attempted comeback from labrum surgery was continually delayed and eventually cancelled, budding superstar Justin Upton didn’t build on his outstanding 2009 season, and a mediocre offense couldn’t overcome often poor starting pitching and a historically bad bullpen—ingredients that contributed to a 65-97 record and a mid-season pink slip for GM Josh Byrnes. Interim boss Jerry Dipoto immediately went into cost-shedding mode, shipping out veterans Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, and Chris Snyder in exchange for prospects and payroll flexibility, before handing over the reins to former Padres GM Kevin Towers in late September. Given this and if I were Towers, what steps would I take to return the Snakes to contention--initially and in the long-run?
Some off-beat statistical milestones are within reach in the season's finals days.
With four days left in baseball’s marathon season, most eyes will be focused on the two matchups which have a direct bearing on the playoffs: the Padres/Giants pitching festival in San Francisco, and the Phillies/Braves set in Atlanta. Nonetheless, there are 13 other series to be played before we can close the books on the 2010 regular season. Often these late-season contests spark little interest outside of those with game tickets, family members on the team, or the need for a few more Joakim Soria saves to clinch their fantasy baseball championship. To add a little spice to these contests while our early-season heroes play out the string or prep for the postseason, I’ve decided to share with you a few slightly off-beat statistical milestones that could be met in the next few days. None of these numbers are as sexy as .400 or 61*, but they may help you appreciate a few of the more unexpected or unreported achievements of the 2010 season.
There is plenty of talent on hand but the bullpen is an issue.
Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series, or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.
Has Carlos Zambrano really been a "whole new pitcher" since returning to the Cubs?
Tuesday night in front of a full house at Wrigley Field, Carlos Zambrano successfully stared down the San Francisco Giants in a game the visitors desperately needed to win to maintain their wafer-thin divisional lead. While the Giants eventually scored a critical 1-0 victory, the fault didn’t lie with Zambrano, who managed to shut them out on three hits over six innings, and whose eight strikeouts gave him 1,431 for his career—one behind Charlie Root for second place on the all-time Cubs K-list.
The offensive-dependent Brewers and defensive-dependent Mariners are on the verge of becoming baseball's Light Brigades.
When I was younger, I used to play a board game called “Circus Maximus” which simulated chariot racing. At the start of the game you would have four points to assign to four categories: team speed, team endurance, chariot size, and driver skill, all of which would help your chariot in different ways at different times of the race. Any combination could win, depending on how the race unfolded, but the game required you to choose up front the factors at which your team would excel. The challenge was to follow your strengths and avoid race situations that exposed your weaknesses.
Ted Lilly's recent performances should give him a better payday, but where will he play next year?
When the Los Angeles Dodgers and starter Ted Lilly square off tonight against the Astros in Houston, very little will be at stake for either team. While the Padres’ recent freefall has allowed the surging Giants and Rockies to vault back into playoff contention, the struggling Dodgers’ team goals have been reduced to keeping players healthy, sorting out their options for 2011, and using the 12 remaining games against their more aspirational National League West rivals to play spoiler. Oh, and hopefully entertaining their paying customers more by their on-field exploits than the spectacle of their owners’ uncanny impersonations of Oliver and Barbara Rose.
August again sorted out the contenders from the pretenders.
During the marathon baseball season, the month of August can often be thought of as the league’s Sorting Hat—a time when the playoff contenders separate themselves from the pretenders and position themselves for September’s sprint to the finish. As Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto has been documenting each week, the playoff races have recently taken on a much clearer shape, with the Yankees, Rays, Twins, Rangers, Braves, Reds, and Padres becoming prohibitive favorites, and the Phillies a better-than-even bet to fill out the post-season dance card. As thrilling as the September race to the wire can (and hopefully will) be, a team’s performance in the dog days of August—after the trade deadline, before roster expansion—can often cement a team’s playoff ambitions as time slowly ticks away on the rivals chasing them.
Jose Bautista's assertion that the Pirates were a couple of quality pitchers away from being a winning team in 2007 is almost laughable.
I guess I must have slept through 2007, because my memory of that year is apparently pretty fuzzy. According to a recent Associated Press report, the Pittsburgh Pirates that summer were loaded with talented young position players, some of them future All-Stars, whose clear destiny to bring winning baseball back to western Pennsylvania was undermined by a group of front-office pinchpennies. According to a number of former players quoted in the AP report, if only the miserly, besuited scrooges who run the franchise had merely picked up the phone and called in an order for some veteran pitching, instead of going all Gordon Gekko on the workforce and breaking up a sure winner for no better reason than to line their pockets in the short term, the Pirates’ long string of losing seasons would certainly have ended.
The 2006 class is a tough one to beat among a strong recent group of rookie classes.
Earlier this week, the folks at Beloit College released their annual MindsetList, a document designed to explain the cultural differences between the incoming class of college freshmen and the older faculty hired to teach them. The idea is to highlight the small and large ways the world has changed in the last 20 years by mentioning things that were true during the life span of oldsters that were never true for those under 20, e.g., the existence of things like a telephone cord, a country called Czechoslovakia, and a baseball commissioner not named Bud. For me, a man who fervently hopes Jamie Moyer comes back next spring to ensure I won’t have to face being older than every major-league ballplayer, this is always a time to reflect on youth and age, both in life and in baseball—especially so this year, since the current Mindset List includes a reference to the term Annus Horribilus, which I happened to use in last year’s BP Annual, but which I now know dates me almost as much as saying “23 Skidoo.”
Continuing his series, Ken discusses the last 21 of his (mostly) baseball beliefs.
Last week, in response to a conversation I had with a casual acquaintance I’ve chosen to call Chet (but who would probably be more aptly called Polly Perkins), I laid out the first half of my list of 42 things I believe—almost all related to baseball, some related to metrics, some not. You can find the second half below. To reiterate, these are just my off-the-cuff beliefs, and some of them aren’t necessarily backed up by anything more than my own personal feelings. Feel free to praise or flame, and I encourage you to add your own beliefs in the comments.